SOMEBODY has made a mistake. It’s a big mistake.
It’s potentially cost us the signing of a key player who the manager has clearly identified as one of his major targets and with whom he has personally used his array of magic powers to convince to join us.
It’s a catastrophe and somebody must be sacked.
I’m not sure whether the desire for people to pay for their mistakes with their jobs is a curse of modern life or whether it’s always been the case. At 37 years old I struggle to recall what things were like before the internet, Twitter and Facebook dominated our lives, although it feels like the phrase ’knee-jerk’ fits nicely with the modern world.
It’s something that consumes all of us these days. A news story breaks and we all start commenting on it and shouting about it before we’ve even had a chance to take a breath. It’s the modern-day equivalent of a story breaking in the Liverpool Echo in 1982 and us all immediately rushing to the pub to shout things at each other, almost certainly shouting things at strangers we pass in the street on the way, without taking any time to let it mull around in our minds.
Even days later, many of us are still in a frenzy about the Virgil van Dijk saga. I definitely do not excuse myself from being among those absolutely furious with the whole thing. It got to the point where I felt the need to explain to my wife why I was in such a bad mood, and I felt like a 10-year-old when I had to set out how excited I’d been at the thought of Liverpool beating Manchester City and Chelsea to the signing of a defender for a world-record fee who I’d turned into the solution to our defensive problems, despite him being currently injured and despite having only watched him in about two full games in my life.
Being 37 years old was the problem. You see, I don’t often get excited about transfers these days. I tend to remain level-headed and roll out lines like “let’s wait and see what they’re like” instead of rushing to the local tattoo parlour to get their portrait permanently added to my right thigh. The Anfield Wrap’s interview with a Southampton supporter who basically described van Dijk as the greatest thing he had ever seen served only to stoke the fires of my delirium.
I was livid when it fell apart, as we all were. I was more livid, though, with the embarrassing way in which we bent over and let Southampton write an apology for us to publish on our own website for the world to see. Personally, I’d have told them to fuck off.
Where my view seems to differ from many others, however, is in my reaction to what should happen to the individual or individuals who are responsible for the flawed strategy that led to Southampton running to the Premier League and telling tales on us.
My view is very clear. Unless the mistake or mistakes are evidence of specific individuals making the same errors repeatedly and demonstrating that they haven’t learned their lessons, I wouldn’t even consider sacking them.
One of my favourite business quotes that covers my thinking is this by Thomas J Watson, former CEO and Chairman of IBM:
“Recently, I was asked if I was going to fire an employee who made a mistake that cost the company $600,000. No, I replied, I just spent $600,000 training him. Why would I want somebody to hire his experience?”
The above quote is in direct conflict with much of what we see in our society. A politician or other high-profile figure makes a very public error and the press, followed by the public, demand that they should resign or should be sacked. I very rarely hear anyone make the argument that they should stay in their position and be given the opportunity to learn from their mistake in order to grow and develop. After all, isn’t experience just the process of making a series of mistakes and knowing how not to make them in the future, and don’t we all cherish and value experience?
I know what you might say: “But Paul, we’ve been making mistakes in the transfer market for years, remember when this happened with Clint Dempsey?”
I do remember, but I’d hazard a guess that the people dealing with that attempted transfer are not the same people who dealt with this one. Many of the individuals from that time have already left the club, so we don’t have the benefit of their experience that they gained from that cock-up. Certainly the senior figures dealing with transfers now were not the senior figures dealing with them four years ago. Michael Edwards has taken some stick for the whole mess, but even if he was solely to blame for the entire episode (which remains to be seen), he is, by all accounts, amazing at his job. Would you sack a highly-skilled employee from your business because they made a big mistake? Or would you retain them for all of the other attributes which they add to your structure and seek to ensure that similar mistakes aren’t made in the future?
And what, as I’ve seen suggested, if the entire strategy was created in conjunction with those at the very top of the food chain at the club? Should they all be sacked, or should we just be given a scapegoat who should be sacked to make everyone feel better?
Running any business is basically made up of the making of a series of thousands of decisions all put together to get to an outcome. Sometimes the outcome will be what was desired from the start, but often it won’t, and those outcomes are the ones which should be placed in the “mistakes to learn from” folder, to be revisited often as the business moves forward.
The reality is that a stable business isn’t run based on the reaction of its customers to mistakes made. The best businesses in the world actively encourage mistakes to be made because it’s the best way to encourage thinking differently. Punish every serious mistake with the loss of an individual’s job and you can guarantee that everyone will only ever play it safe going forward. It’s basically what most of the corporate world looks like. Fear rules and innovation is hindered accordingly.
Whether we all think that there was no need for Liverpool’s transfer men to be thinking differently in this situation is largely irrelevant, what matters is that there’s a stable structure in place and a way of doing things that, ultimately, means that we secure more of our top transfer targets than those we miss out on, as we did last summer. It’s worth noting that after several years of ownership, Fenway Sports Group have just seemingly completed their dream team both on and off the pitch, so shouldn’t this newly-formed group be given the slack to make a few mistakes without being judged on their predecessors’ records?
FSG know that the uproar that followed the van Dijk news will soon be forgotten if they secure a few other key signings in the coming weeks (possibly still including Virgil should his social media messages lead to a real life strike). That’s why I’m not surprised that no further statements have been made, and I’m equally not surprised to see us linked with an approach to sign Kylian Mbappe (despite the irony that the reported approach would also be illegal, highlighting the ridiculousness of the entire episode).
Gareth Roberts says Liverpool have no reason not to be in the race to sign Kylian Mbappe on this week’s free show
My view on the whole saga was that we should have thrown an extra £10 million at Southampton for them to turn a blind eye to the whole thing, saving the damage to our reputation and the overwhelming embarrassment that followed. But I’m not privy to the plans behind the scenes. For all we know, the Mbappe approach was already in the works and the owners were confident that they could get him, at which point we’d all be hastily getting the van Dijk tattoos removed from our thighs and having a huge image of an 18-year-old French lad tattooed on our backs.
As an aside, when I first heard the Mbappe story I thought it was just a PR stunt to take our attention away from the Southampton farce. Like a magician averting our attention while they steal our watch. But the more I think about it, the more I think a signing like that could now be our ultimate sweet spot for transfers.
The problem we have generally is that we want to buy younger players to develop, and those players generally have a choice between us, Spurs and Dortmund, all of which could offer a similar financial package. Dortmund and Spurs can arguably offer younger players a place to develop with less pressure and expectations than they’d have playing in front of our crazy worldwide fan base, which makes getting those transfers over the line something of a lottery.
Above those players are the lads we’ve felt for a while, rightly or wrongly, won’t come to us ahead of the likes of Real Madrid, Barcelona and Bayern Munich because we can’t (or won’t) offer the types of wages they can (or will), and haven’t for many years been able to give any assurances about the prospects of winning major trophies or playing in the Champions League.
Then we’ve got Mbappe. A really young superstar who has basically been priced out of a move to Dortmund or Spurs because they just won’t pay the ridiculous fee being touted. The really interesting thing, though, is that Madrid, Barca and Bayern can’t promise he’ll get sufficient playing time to continue his development with them. Even Manchester City might struggle to give him any assurances on that front with the embarrassment of riches they have in forward positions.
So, if we are ready to spend £100m on one player, he could be the sole item in a shop in which we are the only viable customer. The only customer who can afford the number on the price tag and also guarantee he’ll be given regular games in which to develop while playing in the Champions League and challenging for trophies, still with plenty of time to move to any of the other big hitters in the future should he so desire.
Wishful thinking? Maybe. What I can guarantee though, is that the next couple of months will determine how we view the van Dijk situation next season, and no decisions should be made with regards to the ability of those involved with transfers, or the security of their jobs, until we’ve seen how the whole summer pans out.